KLM social media manager Karlijn Vogel-Meijer was one of the most enlightening speakers at 2016’s Festival of Marketing.

She told the story of KLM’s work on social media, including the latest footnote – using AI and bots to enhance the customer journey whilst maintaining a human touch.

Here’s a recap…

The three pillars

KLM has traditionally had three pillars to its social media strategy that had been in place since around 2011 – service, brand and commerce.

  • Service: Commitment to a one-hour response and a 24-hour solution in multiple languages.
  • Brand: Establishing the brand as a social media front runner and strengthening the perception of KLM’s existing brand and values.
  • Commerce: Developing social media channels towards a cost efficient acquisition channel for fans and followers, tickets and ancillary.

But with 100,000 mentions a week and more people adopting social media, KLM’s social media service function cannot scale up indefinitely.

Currently 235 agents respond to questions on social and it’s not feasible to keep expanding this number.

That’s why the airline is increasingly using a triage system whereby that 60 minute promise becomes a ‘when you need it’ promise.

So, answers are provided as soon as possible, but relative to their time sensitivity.

More excitingly, KLM is also exploring AI and bots to help reduce the strain, whilst working to maintain a human feel.

Before we delve into that, let’s look at how KLM’s social functionality has got to this point, and how the service-brand-commerce model is evolving.

Social commerce

It’s a stat we’ve published on the Econsultancy blog before, but KLM’s return on investment when it comes to social commerce is impressive.

An initial investment of €3,500 in an easy payment link from social (i.e. the ability to pay via Twitter and Facebook through a payment link messaged to a customer by KLM) has seen a weekly return of some €150,000.

Campaigns to campaignable services

KLM uses what Karlijn called ‘the suitcase principle’ – when one goes missing, nothing else matters to that customer.

So, the idea is that KLM should solve problems and turn these solutions into the campaign itself.

The neatest example of this was when KLM streamlined its lost property process, to reunite more stopover passengers with lost items.

The company highlighted its better work in this area with its famous lost-and-found doggy campaign (see below). 21m organic YouTube views was not too shabby.

This idea of campaignable services is going from asking ‘what is easy for the company?’ to ‘what is easy for the customer?’

Sales campaigns to personalised offers

Karlijn championed the effectiveness of dynamic prospecting and retargeting through the awareness, consideration and action stages of the customer journey.

This, of course, happens partly through social media.

Social as third entry point

More than 60% of all website visits are on mobile.

With the average person using five to six apps per day and only 10% of their installed apps, Karlijn asked the rhetorical question, “Why would we push people to our app? We want to be where they are (in social apps).”

This not only applies to service, brand and commerce, but for any information they might want on the KLM website.

True innovation is about making it easier for the customer.

Facebook Messenger app – 1m messages in the first three months

The moment social messaging was opened up as a service channel in March 2016, the volume of messages shot up.

If you’re not familiar with KLM’s activity in this channel, here’s a video intro.

Just to emphasise the rise in customer contact through Messenger, see the grainy chart below. The orange marker shows the point when Facebook Messenger was opened up as a comms channel.

Now KLM gets on average five questions a minute via Facebook Messenger, with 13 messages a minute during peak times (15h-17h).

klm messages per month

Bots and AI

So, are bots the solution to this increasing volume of messaging? Does KLM simply need to automate the support function?

Karlijn categorically stated no, saying that KLM wants “to deliver a personal feel, and we truly believe bots are not able to do so at the moment.”

Yes, bots can push boarding passes, status updates and some other messages, but they are nowhere near standalone conversation machines.

However, AI is going beyond bots at KLM. The airline is using smart data to improve the support function.

Agents are supported with suggested answers based on use data collected on the customer to give personal fast and correct answers.

This gives, Karlijn says, “the best of both worlds – a timely answer, a correct answer, and a personal answer. The best of humans and the best of tech.”

The three pillars redefined

So, the past year of activity with social commerce, Messenger integration of functionality and AI to improve service, has led to an update of the three pillars model.

  • Service: Solve issues fast and on the spot, whether it is through a personal approach or social automation. Learn from interactions to change KLM for the better.
  • Brand and Reputation: Campaigns to create awareness or highlight campaignable services based on service interactions. Content designed to create awareness and reinforce values.
  • Commerce: Make social commerce scalable and cost-efficient. Activation throughout the journey.

And underpinning this work is:

  • Social Development and Automation: Bringing .com to social touchpoints. Automating parts of the internal and external conversation.

What’s next?

Karlijn tackled the logical conclusion of this activity, which she described as “one thread”.

Being where your customers are, giving the best service, and forming a true relationship by choice is something that is achievable through social messaging apps.

One thread allows KLM to offer information and services throughout the journey (e.g. Uber, hotels), and may mean KLM can expand its remit from flight information to travel service.

Karlijn’s summary

  1. Be where your customers are.
  2. Social is equal to your app and .com – a new entry point for customers.
  3. True innovation is about making it easier for the customer.
  4. Bring .com functionalities to social.
  5. A correct, personal and timely answer to customer questions.
  6. An answer by an agent supported by technology.

More from 2016’s Festival of Marketing: